NAZARETH — When the late chief of Ha-Phaloane village, Masupha Phaloane, died in 1998 he left a will saying that his daughter’s child should succeed him.
He could not have possibly expected that a decade later this decision would cause a serious succession dispute that would tear his family apart and confuse his people.
Unfortunately this is what has exactly happened and the people of Ha-Phaloane remain without a substantive chief as Chief Phaloane’s family fight over the post.
His daughter, Tabitha Phaloane (pictured), who claims to be holding the post for her son Mohale Phaloane — the rightful heir according to the will — has had running battles with other family members.
The other family members say Mohale, 16, should not be the heir because he is Tabitha’s illegitimate son.
This, Tabitha’s uncles say, means that the chieftainship should be passed to the next family in line because the late Chief Phaloane did not have a son.
Tabitha, 45, is the only surviving child of the late chief but she cannot inherit the chieftaincy because she is female.
Her two sisters died years ago.
She says her son is the only male in Chief Phaloane’s immediate family and the rightful heir to the chieftaincy.
But that has not been enough to convince the other family members to accept Mohale as their next leader.
Instead the Phaloane family is considering appointing a relative to take over as chief.
Motha Phaloane, the man touted as the possible heir, is of the family that comes after the late Chief Phaloane’s in the succession line but he lives in Malimong, Tebe-tebeng, about 60 kilometres from Ha-Phaloane.
They also want Thabita to stop acting as chief, a role she has played since 1998 when her father died.
“I know and understand that I will not be the village chief because I am a woman but my father appointed my son as his successor,” Tabitha told the Sunday Express.
“My son is the only male in my father’s family.”
She said she had been acting as the village’s chief because Mohale was still too young to take over.
“Although I had not been officially appointed an acting chief I had been working as one for 10 years ever since my father’s death,” she said.
“I was surprised when a distant relative who spoke on behalf of the family announced during my mother’s funeral that Motha Phaloane would be the acting chief until the family decided on the heir.
“I was at the time performing the duties of a chief but these things were not discussed with me perhaps because I am a daughter in this family.”
Tabitha said after her father’s death she assumed the chief’s duties for the 10 years because her mother, ’Mapalesa, was sick.
She said for years she thought she was holding the chief’s office on behalf of her son.
Thabita said Chief Mosuoe Theko, who oversees Ha-Phaloane and other villages, had reaffirmed that he was still the acting chief.
Her uncles however wrote Ha-Ratau Chief Lerotholi Theko — who oversees the whole of Nazareth — informing him that they had decided to make Motha the acting chief until the family had appointed an heir. That proposal was endorsed by the Principal Chief of Thaba-Bosiu Khoabane Theko who is the most senior chief in the area.
The office of the Maseru district administrator also accepted the appointment.
But Tabitha said her uncles had not consulted Chief Mosuoe when they wrote to the area chief and that they did not give him a copy of the letter.
Chief Lerotholi wrote to Chief Mosuoe ordering that Tabitha should no longer perform any chieftainship duties.
Tabitha however continued to serve the village as acting chief in collaboration with Chief Mosuoe.
Chief Lerotholi then, again, ordered Tabitha to stop acting as chief in a letter titled “Ha-Phaloane Chieftainship” and dated May 11 2009.
“I believe you have received copy of the letter I wrote to the chief of Nazareth in which I talked about this issue,” reads part of Chief Lerotholi’s letter.
“As a follow-up to the contents of that letter I hereby order you with this letter to come to my office in Ha-Ratau on 14/05/2009 at 9:00 am without fail.”
The letter was copied to the area’s police commander.
Tabitha said on the appointed date she failed to attend Chief Lerotholi’s call because a close relative had died.
“Chief Mosuoe wrote the area chief of Ha-Ratau explaining that I had not disobeyed him as I had had some problems and I would go to him on another day,” Tabitha said.
Chief Lerotholi was angry that Tabitha did not obey his order and he charged her with disobedience at the Ralejoe local court where she was found guilty and was fined M200.
A month ago Tabitha stopped serving as acting chief for fear of being arrested.
Her hopes were dashed when Chief Mosuoe, her main supporter, died.
But last Wednesday Chief Mosuoe’s son, Samuel, who has since taken over, allegedly reinstated her.
Motha told the Sunday Express on Friday that he was not happy that Samuel had allegedly reinstated Tabitha against the wishes of the Phaloane family.
“I have taken the matter to Chief Bolepo (Theko) who is in the principal chief’s office and he has agreed to resolve this matter once and for all,” Motha said.
He said the Phaloane family that lives in Tebe-tebeng was the most senior and a man from that family should instead take over the village chieftaincy.
“In Sesotho custom that boy, although he is our child, cannot be our head and therefore cannot be our chief,” he said.
“The family followed section 22 of the Chieftainship Act which clearly states that an elder son becomes a chief and in the absence of the son the next family in the succession line will assume chieftainship.”